Dateline: 30 April 2011
About An Old Picture
About An Old Picture
|(click on picture for a much larger view)|
.I happened upon the above picture while cruising through Google images this past month. The old photo has found its way to numerous web pages and I do not know its provenance. I think it is safe to assume that it was taken in the 1800s. Beyond that, we can only look and wonder, and I found myself looking and wondering about this particular picture much more than other old pictures.
The photograph was, no doubt, staged. Cameras back then were not like today—they required some time to set up. We could assume the old couple is married and that they are in their home. What we see is probably a third of the entire structure. So the home may measure ten feet wide and be fifteen feet long, or even less than that.
Are these two people slaves? Perhaps, but I don't think so. It is possible that they were once slaves. It’s also possible that, though they were freed slaves in the picture, they were still, to a large degree, beholden to a landowner (a former slave owner) who employed them. So the house might have been theirs and, then again, it might not have been.
Whatever the case, this place where the two live and make their home is obviously simple and crude, but adequate. Cooking is done in the open fireplace. The fireplace also serves to provide welcome heat when it is cold outside—and unwelcome heat when it is warm outside and the cooking must still be done. There is, of course, no electricity, no running water, no refrigeration, no bathroom, and little in the way of conveniences. We can be assured that the food the couple ate was very basic and that, even in their older years, they grew, or helped grow, most of the food they needed.
Study the picture. Look at every detail, right down to the newspapers stuck to the sidewalls and the stains on the rough floor boards, and then ask yourself this question: Could you be content if you lived in such a home?
Or, let us move ahead in history to a year, and place, and people we can know more about..... Pie Town, New Mexico, 1940. The Jack Whinery family. It is the Great Depression.
|The Jack Whinery family of Pie Town New Mexico, 1940. From left to right: Wanda, mother Edith, Velva Mae, Jack, baby Laurence, Laura, and A.J (click to enlarge)|
That famous picture, taken by photojournalist Russell Lee, shows the Whinery family in their dugout home. That is to say, they live partially underground, in a structure made out of earth and logs. The walls around them are "papered" with pieces of corrugated cardboard boxes. There is a very small window behind Laura.
The story goes that Jack and his family arrived in Pie Town with thirty cents, and Jack spent that thirty cents on some nails to use in making the dugout home. Here is an outside view of the Whinery dugout.
Pie Town was a settlement of homesteaders who, in Grapes-of-Wrath-fashion, fled from places like Texas and Oklahoma; they were driven out by the Dust Bowl. They stopped in Pie Town on their way West, away from the despair. Pie Town was as far as they got. There was a community of people in Pie Town who were, more or less, all living much like the Whinery family.
When considering this way of life, the question again comes.... could you (or could I), reduced to living in a dugout home, be content in such circumstances?
Those pictures, and the broad, long history of the world, indicate that it is possible for people to live healthy, productive, largely self-sufficient lives without electricity, running water, and expensive houses. And I am confident that many of the people throughout history who have lived such lives were happy and content. But could you and I be content to live such a life?
As a Christian, I am particularly interested in this question because in 1 Timothy 6:6 it says, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” Then, in 1 Timothy 6:8 it says: “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.” In Hebrews 13:5 it says, “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have.” And in Philippians 4:11, the Apostle Paul says, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”
Based on those verses, I think it is safe to say that Christians are commanded to be content in whatever circumstances they find themselves. This matter of contentment could be considered a doctrine of the Christian faith. It is, or should be, a fundamental part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
That said, it is worth pointing out that contentment is completely contrary to the doctrines of Industrialism, which is the dominant worldly system that we all live within. Industrialism survives and thrives by creating materialistic discontent; by encouraging the natural, inherent covetousness within each of us. People must buy stuff of all kinds, lots of it, for all their days, in order to support the industrial system. I dare say, envy, materialism and discontentment are the lifeblood of industrialism. This anti-Christ system can not survive unless it breeds discontentment in the masses.
All of which brings me to The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, by Jeremiah Burroughs. Thank you Tom Holliday for sending me a copy of this 1648 classic of Puritan literature and biblical understanding (by the way, I welcome all Puritan books that anyone would like to send me—and, for that matter, I’ll take any non-Puritan books that you think I might like). The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (click to read online public domain copy) is rich with wisdom and proper perspective. Rich.
I am still working my way through it but I would like to provide a couple of simple quotes. First, I give you Burrough’s definition of Christian contentment:
“Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.”.
Pastor Burroughs further wrote that Christian contentment is an “art and a mystery” that he believed could not be truly obtained outside the grace of God working in a person’s heart, which is to say, it is not of this world. Burroughs' book delves into the art, the mystery and the grace. One very small bit of the art and the mystery is this...
“A Christian comes to contentment, not so much by way of addition, as by way of subtraction.”
The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment is a jewel of a book, filled with wisdom that I need, and that anyone who desires contentment in a world system geared to keep people in a constant state of materialistic discontent needs. It is a timeless book, but it is of particular value in these times of economic loss, as we see the living standards of more and more people ratcheting ever lower.
A final verse on this subject of contentment....
Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’
"Poverty" & Community
|A portion of "Politics, Farming and Law in Missouri" by Thomas Hart Benton|
In Wendell Berry’s essay, The Work of Local Culture, he tells the story of walking with an old friend to see the “ruining log house” that had belonged to the friend’s grandparents and great-grandparents. Wendell listens to the story of those who once lived in the place, and he writes of them:
“They were poor, as country people often have been, but they had each other, they had their local economy in which they helped each other, they had each others comfort when they needed it, and they had their stories, their history together in that place. To have everything but money is to have much.”
To have everything but money is to have much... If you read of Depression-era Pie Town, New Mexico, you'll see that there was a community in that place. When I look at the picture at the top of this page, I sense that the old couple are part of a community. Close communities were once common in rural America.
Industrialism has destroyed close, interdependent communities and the economy of those communities. Such community is now difficult to find. Thus, few people in this day and age experience the richness of community as it was once known. I don't experience it like it was once known. But there have been times in my life when I have come close, and it is a sweet thing.
My point here is that I believe contentment is easier to find when one is in the midst of a community of people who share common needs, common understandings, common values, and common experiences.
I have been careful not to use the word poverty in my opening essay above. It was tempting but I was not sure it was appropriate. It so happens that poverty is a relative term and therefore difficult to define. One man's poverty is another man's plenty. One man's plenty is another man's poverty. How would you define poverty?
To bring some clarity to the matter, I consulted Webster's 1828 dictionary. Webster defines poverty, in part, as "want of convenient means of subsistence," and further states that "the consequence of poverty is dependence."
Well, if the consequence of poverty is dependence, then the whole industrial system, despite its abundance of stuff, and convenience, and amusements would appear in actuality to be a system of poverty. After all, industrialism perpetrates dependency. Modern man is now dependent for most of his subsistence upon the industrial providers who supply him with food, shelter, fuel, transportation, clothing, entertainment, and so forth.
Could it be that we moderns have been hoodwinked by the industrial paradigm? Could it be that the richness of subsistence and simple plenty once found within the paradigm of land-based family and community economies (people working with their hands to provide their own needs) has been exchanged for something that is more truly poverty? Could it be that the industrial system has established and perpetrated itself by redefining what poverty is?
As a Christian I do not believe that God wants His people to live in poverty. But I also do not believe that God defines poverty the same as the industrial system does.
A Voice From Within
The Greek Tragedy
|A view of rural Greece|
America has economic problems. But things here are not as bad as they are in Greece. That isn't to say they won't eventually become as bad. There are minds more knowledgeable and informed than mine that think America will go the way of Greece. But what exactly is going on in Greece these days?
Well, I received an e-mail from a citizen of that country this past month and part of that e-mail summed up the problem there in a few poignant sentences. It is worth understanding the problems in Greece, especially if we may be in line to experience a similar fate. Here is what the e-mail said:
"As you may know, Greece is living for two years now very hard economic times and severe depression. The average income of the Greek citizen falls every month that passes by, with increasingly tougher economic measures by the government and constantly bigger taxes..D
The difficult economic situation & unemployment in the big cities leads people back to the farms of their fathers who had abandoned them 10-30 years ago. They realize that probably they never should have abandoned their roots and the land of their ancestors."
About Agrarian Nation
Last month I told you about my new blog, Agrarian Nation. Twice a week, every Monday and Friday morning, I post an excerpt from the pre-1900 agricultural writings that I've gleaned from my old farm almanac collection. Nine excerpts were posted in April.
Response to Agrarian Nation has been more positive than I expected. Many people are telling others about it on their blogs and on Facebook. I really appreciate you all spreading the word!
And some people have given financial donations to the work of Agrarian Nation. I am thankful and grateful for them. One donation was a real surprise. You can see it in the picture above. Three silver Mercury dimes were sent to me by a kindred agrarian and fellow blogger.
Silver is “honest money.” It can not be devalued by immoral inflation, like paper money, and it is therefore a “safe” form of money. It doesn't necessarily "make" you a profit (based on usury) like "money in the bank" but it holds it's value in the long run. Silver is a contra-industrial kind of money because the financial powers-that-be cannot manipulate it as easily as fiat paper dollars in order to extract (steal) wealth that they did not earn. Paper (fiat) money is fraudulent money.
Those three dimes, dated 1917, 1930, and 1938, remind me of the thirty cents that Jack Whinery used to buy nails for making his dugout home in Pie Town back during the Great Depression. It was all he had, or so the story goes. You know, one of those dimes pictured above could have been part of Jack Whinery’s last thirty cents. If those dimes could talk!
And then it occurred to me that those three dimes were a sign, a message— a portent of my future. I am not superstitious, but it is an amazing coincidence that as I was reading and learning about Jack Whinery spending his last thirty cents to buy nails to build a dugout, I receive thirty cents in the mail. It makes a person wonder.........
I Have Acquired The Rosetta Stone of the Agrarian Nation
You must understand that I am sometimes prone to hyperbole when giving titles here. What I should say is that I have come into the possession of something akin to the Rosetta Stone for understanding how rural people lived and worked in pre-1900 America (but that’s too long for a title).
the Rosetta Stone, for you who don’t know, is an ancient Egyptian monument with some sort of ancient decree inscribed on it. The inscription is in three ancient languages, one of which is Egyptian hieroglyphs. The Rosetta Stone was discovered in 1799 by a French soldier and it enabled modern researchers who care about Egyptian hieroglyphs (but didn’t understand what they meant, because, I suppose, all the Egyptians forgot) to finally figure out what those old writings were saying.
Anyway, I was on eBay this last month, looking at old agrarian literature, and I happened upon a listing for a bound copy of one year (52 issues) of The Cultivator & Country Gentleman magazine from 1869. I was not familiar with this magazine, and there was no picture for the listing, but the description had me intrigued. So I bought it. The book is pictured above and here is a picture from inside the book...
When I first looked through the many pages in the book, I felt as if I had discovered the Rosetta Stone of Agrarian America, or a significant portion of it. I think I may have even trembled a little as I considered what a wealth of information from pre-grid rural America was in the volume—I felt sort of like what Allan Quatermain would have felt when he first discovered the treasure of King Solomon's mines (sort of).
The Cultivator & Country Gentleman magazine was subtitled: The Farm, The Garden, The Fireside. I like that. The bound issues I purchased were originally sent to Dr. Al Norris of Horseheads, NY. The volume had been donated to the University of Chicago. I guess the University of Chicago deemed the old magazines of no intellectual or academic value.
But I was greatly moved by this tossed debris of the Chicago University. I saw such tremendous cultural value (for agrarian-minded folk) in it, that I went back to eBay and bought eight more bound years of the magazine—every year I could find on eBay. I won't tell you what I paid. I don't want to think about it.
I was hoping to find more volumes from before 1870 but there were none. Instead, I bought 1871, 1873, 1874, 1875, 1876, 1877, 1879, and 1880. This amount (108 issues) of original-source information far exceeds the information I have assembled over the past several years in my pre-1900 farm almanac collection. I will be able to post interesting and informative excerpts to my Agrarian Nation web site for years, with just these nine volumes. Here's another look at one page from my new acquisition:
|This picture, from the February 2, 1871 Cultivator & Country Gentleman has the following caption: Imported Berkshires, the property of C.C & R.H. Parks, Glen Flora Farm, Waukegan, Ill.|
An Old Solution For High Unemployment
|Unemployed men during the Great Depression of the 1930s|
We are living in a time when many men in this country are out of work. It is not the first time this has happened. Problems of unemployment are common to the industrial system and have been so for a couple hundred years. That's because the industrial paradigm has lured people off the land into industrial jobs, and then, in time, "pulled the rug out from under them."
Economic booms within the industrial model are great while they last, but then comes the bust. It it the industrial cycle; it's all par for the course. Boom & Bust. Boom & Bust. Boom & Bust. Boom & Bust. Boom & Bust.....?
What's different about today, as opposed to long ago, is the number of women in the workforce. The integration of more women into the industrial workforce appears to have preceded World War II (1939) but was helped greatly by the war. When so many men went off to fight, women were needed in industry. Rosie the Riveter was an idealized role model.
I think it is interesting to know that during the Great Depression (prior to the war), there was widespread consensus in America that women should not be in the workforce, particularly if they had an able, working husband. This excerpt from Allan C. Carlson's book, The American Way, provides some historical perspective:
A 1936 Gallup poll asked if wives should work if their husbands had jobs. Eighty-two percent of respondents said "No," leading George Gallup to observe that he finally "discovered an issue on which voters are about as solidly united as on any subject imaginable—including sin and hay fever." Later in the decade, Saturday Review's Norman Cousins captured the popular attitude:
"There are approximately 10,000,000 or more women, married and single, who are job holders. Simply fire the women, who shouldn't be working anyway, and hire the men. Presto! No unemployment. No relief rolls. No depression."
We've come a long way since the 1930's. I wonder what the results of such a poll would be today?
Eleanor Roosevelt and The Subsistence Homestead Program
|This photo shows First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, mowing a field of hay as part of the Subsistence Homestead Program she helped to establish.|
Last month I told you about how the women's rights movement of the 1920s and 1930s, allied with industrial interests, endeavored to use the power of government to weaken the agrarian family economy and redefine the traditional (agrarian) roles of men and women. Eleanor Roosevelt was among a cadre of "maternalists" who stood against the femi-industrial movement as it sought to have "industry, rather than family and father... provide sustenance and meaning" within the family. This was what I had learned from reading Allan C. Carlson's book, The American Way.
Now I'd like to quote Allan Carlson again so as to explain another Depression-era program that few people know anything about. It is a program that, among government programs, is remarkable for it's practicality. The idea appears to have been lofty and well intentioned. Unfortunately, government is not well suited to doing these things. It would be much better if the government removed restrictions and regulations and made it easier for individual people and private organizations to do them instead. Here's the story....
The Subsistence Homestead program
This openly reactionary project, a favorite of Eleanor Roosevelt's, sought to deindustrialize and decentralize American life. It grew directly out of the back-to-the-land movement promoted in the 1920s by Bernarr McFadden of Liberty magazine and Ralph Borsodi, an apostle of family self-sufficiency and home production. Before his inauguration, Franklin Roosevelt spoke among aids of his desire to put a million families into subsistence farming. Senator John H. Bankhead of Alabama successfully included a $25 million appropriation for subsistence homesteads in the NIRA measure. During the next eight years, the federal government launched over two hundred projects under the "homesteading" banner. Commonly, the government built homes on three- to ten-acre lots, laid out as a village, which were provided to worthy families for modest rent, with an option to buy.
Leftist critics of the program saw it as an effort "to build up ... a sheltered peasant group as a rural reactionary bloc to withstand the revolutionary demands of the organized industrial workers." Certainly the hope of subsistence homestead champions was to restore some elements of pre-industrial, family-centered life. The project reflected a "general disillusionment with laissez-faire capitalism" an "ardor for conservation" of both human community and nature. Senator Bankhead saw this as a chance for "a new basis for American society, in that restoration of that small yeoman class which has been the backbone of every great civilization." Secretary of Agriculture, Henry A. Wallace justified the homesteads by noting that "we are more than economic man." One of the project's staff members, the Quaker activist Clarence E. Pickett, argued that behind "facade of abundant production," Americans "had forgotten that the hearth where the family gathers and where neighbors are welcomed is at the very heart of human life." The homesteads would decentralize workers in industry, fulfill "yearnings for a home, for a good life for children, [and] for community," and free the imaginations and intelligence "of men and women who had mostly been treated as cogs in a machine."
WOW. Did you read and understand those words as I did? That was some profound thinking that those people were doing. They understood and saw the dangers of industrialism, and they were trying to preserve the best aspects of an Agrarian Nation to the best of their ability. Here is the rest of what Allan Carlson wrote on this subject:
Program administrator M.L. Wilson admired the Mormon villages found in Utah—their unity of soil, family, and community. He looked to the homesteads as a way to renew village life nationwide through handicrafts, closer family relations, abundant children, and cooperative work. Every homestead would have a garden, a chicken house, and perhaps a pig or cow "for home consumption and not for commercial sale." The selection of homesteaders would focus on stable and honest married couples, with one or more children. The process especially favored large families. Those who abandoned gardening and other home production acts were weeded out and replaced.
The picture at the top of this segment is from a web site about Norvelt and Penn-Craft, two Subsistence Homestead Communities in Pennsylvania. I encourage you to check them out (on the internet). A Google search will get you more information about this obscure but impressive government program from the 1930s. Oh, and by the way, that's not really Eleanor Roosevelt mowing hay in the above picture. I'm just kidding.
For The Next Five Months...
|Another view from the old agrarian writings|
I truly enjoy writing and putting these monthly blogazines together. But it takes time that I'm feeling more and more must be spent on other pursuits, especially now that spring is here. I need to focus on the work of my home business, my garden, and the cottage economy we have here on our little acreage. I need to be living more of what I have been espousing in my Deliberate Agrarian writings here over the past five years. Because I love to write it is easy for me to get out of balance when it comes to writing, and it is difficult for me to change an enjoyable course.
Nevertheless, for the next five months, I will be taking a break; I will be "at large," as they say in the world of writing, when an editor leaves his regular duties for awhile. There will still be a monthly post here but it will be on the light side. I may post a few photos, or a few quotes, or excerpts from the writings of others, but there will be little in the way of lengthy or thoughtful writings from me.
My hope an expectation is that after the five month sabbatical, my batteries will be recharged, that I will return with renewed vigor, and focus, and so on.
Meanwhile, I will continue to post old agrarian excerpts, sometimes with commentary, over at Agrarian Nation every Monday and Friday morning.